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The gift of life


HOME SWEET HOMERóisín pictured last September on her first day home in Ballinrobe with her parents, Shane and Mary, and her big sister, Aisling.

Edwin McGreal

Were it not for eagle-eyed medics at Mayo University Hospital in Castlebar, little Róisín Horan probably would not be alive today. Her mother, Mary, was in the hospital for a regular pregnancy scan last April when a red flag was raised, and Mary was sent to Holles Street in Dublin. An ultrasound there on May 1 revealed the placenta was not working as well as it needed to be.
A subsequent scan in Castlebar on May 15 showed matters has regressed. The next day Mary was again sent to Holles Street and admitted. Daily ultrasounds monitored the placenta while twice-daily scans kept an eye on Róisín’s heartbeat.
This went on until June 3, when accelerating problems with the placenta combined with Róisín’s declining heart rate meant it would not be safe to continue with the pregnancy; Róisín had to arrive.
Trouble was, Mary was only 29 weeks pregnant. Róisín was facing a battle. After being born by C-section on Monday, June 2, at 5.39pm, the first days of Róisín’s life would be a fight for survival.
She was born weighing just 705 grams, or just over 1.5 pounds. Not only was Róisín premature, but she was very small for that gestational period too. The light at the end of the tunnel was barely a flicker.
Because her lungs were not fully developed, Róisín had complications with her breathing, and within a week, she was critically ill. Her parents, Shane and Mary, could only watch on helplessly.
“That first week was hell, but we never allowed ourselves to think it would go any other way than Róisín surviving. We knew she was a warrior and would fight through. That’s all we ever thought,” said Mary.
And Róisín rallied. From there, the first weeks would be a case of watching for tiny little bits of progress – baby steps if you will – on the journey of survival.
Holding her for the first time when she was eleven days old, getting to one kilogram in weight, putting on clothes, the first bath, the end of being fed through a tube and the start of bottle feeds. All massive milestones.
All the while, her parents spent every possible minute they could by her side.
“It was very important to be able to talk to her, touch her and let her know you were there,” said Mary.
Help and support
Shane and Mary were able to do so thanks to the support offered by their family at home and by a place in Dublin called Hugh’s House. Their two-year-old daughter Aisling was back in Mayo, where Mary’s sister had stepped in.
“To be away from Aisling was absolutely heartbreaking, but it meant so much to know she was being loved and taken care of. If it was not for family support, we wouldn’t have managed,” recalls Mary.
And then there was Hugh’s House. “They were our saviour,” said Mary.
Hugh’s House is a charity in Dublin that provides accommodation to families of children who are long-term inpatients in Temple Street, Holles Street, the Rotunda and the Coombe hospitals. They have 14 bedrooms in two houses in Dublin city centre. It was, for the Horans, natives of Islandeady living in Ballinrobe, a home from home.
“We can be slow to look for help in Ireland but this was all done for us. Róisín was born on the Monday and on the Tuesday, a social worker came around on told us Hugh’s House was sorted for us,” said Mary.
“I was discharged on the Friday and Maria, the facilitator at the time, met us at the steps of Hugh’s House, brought us in for a cup of tea and listened to us talk about our worries and our fears and was genuinely concerned.
“It’s a beautiful house. We made it our home. We put cards and pictures up in our room and you were talking to other couples there who were going through a lot of the same emotions as you.
“You might feel you had the weight of the world on your shoulders but you found out there was always someone worse off than you. Many parents are there for an indefinite period of time. You realise quickly you don’t have it that bad.
“Having Hugh’s House was one more thing we didn’t have to worry about. It was a lifeline. The kindness and generosity of what people do for you is overwhelming.”
And so, with the help of Mary’s cousin, Maria Commins, the Horans are organising a fundraiser for Hugh’s House (see box for details). “The reason we are doing it is to show our gratitude. Without not just the accommodation but the mental and emotional support from Hugh’s House, I think we would be a lot worse off now,” said Mary.

Ups and downs
Some days were good, some were very hard.
“It could be an awful tiny thing that would make you feel something was a big setback and then you would not be as inclined to celebrate the victories as much,” Mary explained.
“One day, whatever pushed me I just had to go out, and I walked down Grafton Street, and what is it they say about women and retail therapy? I went into Mothercare and I was buying outfits, and I asked myself, ‘Will Róisín ever fit into them?’. I bought them. I said she would. That outlook was important.”
And underpinning it all was a strong marriage.
“Myself and Shane have a strong relationship. We got each other through it. We always have each other’s backs. Shane [an engineer] was so lucky too that he has a boss who gave him so much time off work. I would have fallen to pieces if he was not there as much as he was.”
At the weekends, they returned home to Aisling. It was a wrench leaving Róisín but, equally, so difficult being away from their eldest child. “We were so torn, but there was only so much we could do for Róisín,” said Mary, who is a national school teacher.
Aisling got to see her little sister for the first time when she left Holles Street to go down to Mayo University Hospital on August 18.
On September 6, Róisín finally made it home to Ballinrobe, after 95 days in hospital.
Putting on weight has been the main goal from the start, and from a birth weight of one and a half pounds, Róisín is now eight pounds and one ounce.
The Horans are so grateful to their family, to Hugh’s House but, above all, to the medical professionals who made this a positive story, and not a heartbreaking one.
“The vigilance and the treatment and care that Róisín received in Holles Street and in Castlebar was out of this world. If the team in Castlebar hadn’t spotted the issue, we could have been looking at a still birth.
“In Ireland we give out about our healthcare service, but if you are having a baby in Ireland, you get everything going in terms of help and services.”

Wall of Hope
Róisín will be six months next Tuesday, December 3, and she has come a very long way in that time.
“Róisín is mighty. I’m here playing with my two girls, and it is just wonderful,” said Mary. “Christmas is coming up, and we just can’t wait.”
While Róisín has been diagnosed with chronic lung disease, because of her premature birth, the Horans are extremely grateful for their lot, knowing it could have been so much worse. “We feel we’ve won the lotto. We feel so lucky.”
And this Christmas there is going to be a special family photo taken in the Horan’s home. It will be one that will be sent to the nurses and doctors in both Castlebar and Holles Street and also to the Wall of Hope at Hugh’s House.
“It is a wall of pictures of children who were in hospital and are now thriving. There was one I looked at every day. It was a baby boy who was born at 24 weeks, weighing just 400 grams, and then you look and see him on his first birthday and he is thriving. That was such a huge drive for me.”
And Róisín Horan will undoubtedly inspire other parents walking a similar road.

Fundraiser for Hugh’s House
A fundraiser for Hugh’s House will take place in the Castlecourt Hotel, Westport, this Saturday night, November 30.
A Festive Evening of Fashion, Wellness and Beauty is the name of the event, which is being organised by Mary and Shane Horan, with the help of Mary’s cousin, Maria Commins.
Hosted by Dermott Langan, the night will provide something for everyone.
Makeup demonstrations will be given by Sarah Holleran and Laura Broderick. Fashion styling tips will be provided by Breda Delaney and Maria Commins. Geraldine Greenan will give a skincare demo, while Barry O’Neill will speak on health and wellness.
There will be a Prosecco reception on arrival, as well as a raffle and spot prizes during the night.
The evening, which is being run  being run in association with Carraig Donn and Schu-It, starts at 7.15pm and will finish at 9.30pm. Tickets are €20; doors open at 6.30pm.
Tickets can be bought on Eventbrite (simply search for ‘A Festive Evening of Fashion, Wellness and Beauty’).
All enquiries to Maria Commins on 087 7532549, or @mariacommins on Instagram. You can also contact Maria via her Facebook page.
All proceeds will go to Hugh’s House.